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An EEG Test For Diagnosing Autism?

An EEG Test For Diagnosing Autism?
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It was 13 years ago that my son Charlie was officially diagnosed with autism after some tense and torrid days of observation and questions by a team including a psychologist, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a social worker, an audiologist, a nurse at the Child Development Clinic of the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. A smaller team from the St. Paul Public Schools District said he had a definite speech delay but no one likes to be the bearer of tough news and we all waited for the word from the clinic team. But Charlie’s delays were evident: At two, he said one sound (“dah”) and showed no sign of understanding any language, including his name. His differences had first been noted by the staff at his daycare at the university where I held my first tenure track job and while I most grudgingly heeded their requests to have Charlie evaluated, to this day we are grateful for their urging.

Being diagnosed with autism at the age of two is far more common today, though the average age of diagnosis is after 4 for autism and after 6 for Asperger’s Syndrome (those with the latter tend to test with higher IQs than average and not to have the severe speech disability that Charlie has). There is certainly far more public awareness about autism and more information accessible via the web. Easter Seals, an organization that has long provided services for individuals with disabilities, has an online diagnostic tool that provides developmental milestone screening and can help link families with local providers. There is still no biological test for autism and a diagnosis is made on the basis of the observations of specialists.

An EEG Test For Autism Diagnosis?

Finding such a biomarker remains a goal and researchers at Boston’s Children Hospital say that EEG traces could provide such a diagnostic test. As reported in the BBC, a BMC Medicine study says that EEG tests “clearly distinguished” autistic children in a trial that included 1,000 children. Scientists found 33 specific EEG patterns that indeed seem to be linked to autism, in children ages 2 to 12.

To test their findings, the researchers repeated their analysis ten times; they found that, about 90 percent of the time, EEG patterns correctly identified autistic children. They are now trying to see if children with Asperger’s Syndrome have different EEG results.

Having recently been in touch with a family considering having an older child evaluated for autism, I would say that such a test would provide some relief and more certainty for families and practitioners. Autism is considered a spectrum condition with individuals presenting with different degrees of severity of impairments in the speech and communication, social interactions and cognitive functioning.

Even though Charlie’s diagnosis is autism, plain and simple, and he has very limited speech (his typical and few utterances are about two to five words long), he is far more intelligent than he ever tests as. It does not help that the tests tend to rely heavily on language. Charlie, highly aware that he is being tested and therefore stressed, tends to test very poorly — he gets progress reports from school and it was only in the past few years that he started to have markings of “SP” (“some progress”) instead of strings of “NP” (“no progress”).

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Photo of the author's son Charlie getting an EEG (not for the test described in this post) in May of 2009 by the author

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30 comments

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1:24PM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

very interesting

7:14AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

will be very interesting to see if they get the same result for us aspies! But with 10% fail rate, there are still too many that would fail the test though

5:15AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

As someone who deals with autism and Asperber's everyday I find the idea of using EEG encouraging. While it will not cure or reduce autism, it might make for a less stressful tool In diagnoses. While every child is an individual, some autistic children find the testing very difficult and their stress causes the results to be less accurate. I don't say the results are wrong because the child behaves that way when stressed, but hopefully they will not be so stressed when in daily therapy. Putting these children in the right educational program is very important for their progress and you don't want them in a program which will introduce new unwelcome behaviors.

I always read ms. Chew's articles because she speaks openly of her son's challenges and progress. Like me, she balances being both an advocate as well as a mother. Children with this abnormally need an advocate that can take a step back and look at the behavior of that child and steer the treatment in the best direction for that child. That sometimes is difficult to mix with the role of mother. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, only Charlie's parents are in the position to decide what is best for Charlie. I support the decisions this advocate makes for this child. All parents should be supported while they navigate this confusing world of autism. As the parent you are the "expert" on your child. The parent knows something isn't "right" well before any doctor has a clue. Helping people with aut

5:14AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

As someone who deals with autism and Asperber's everyday I find the idea of using EEG encouraging. While it will not cure or reduce autism, it might make for a less stressful tool In diagnoses. While every child is an individual, some autistic children find the testing very difficult and their stress causes the results to be less accurate. I don't say the results are wrong because the child behaves that way when stressed, but hopefully they will not be so stressed when in daily therapy. Putting these children in the right educational program is very important for their progress and you don't want them in a program which will introduce new unwelcome behaviors.

I always read ms. Chew's articles because she speaks openly of her son's challenges and progress. Like me, she balances being both an advocate as well as a mother. Children with this abnormally need an advocate that can take a step back and look at the behavior of that child and steer the treatment in the best direction for that child. That sometimes is difficult to mix with the role of mother. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, only Charlie's parents are in the position to decide what is best for Charlie. I support the decisions this advocate makes for this child. All parents should be supported while they navigate this confusing world of autism. As the parent you are the "expert" on your child. The parent knows something isn't "right" well before any doctor has a clue. Helping people with aut

1:53AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

Very good article.

12:45AM PDT on Jun 28, 2012

The sooner you find out about a childs diagnosis the sooner you can learn to deal with it. The more information you have, the more you can educate people about your child. This dispells ignorance and helps progress your child forward and hopefully in the right place to learn with the right people.

11:23PM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Thanks for sharing and trying to make others aware. Also trying to help those who have children in similar situations. I can truly relate. All the very best with Charlie.

8:24PM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Thanks.

7:25PM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

always read kristina article regarding autism and her personal experiences based on charlie; am a special educator at a highly recognized institute on the eastern coast; LOVE working with youngsters under the "umbrella"; and respect those parents who are willing to share, with honesty and respect for, not only their children, but with those within the education field who are striving to give more answers to the wide berth of questions from those families whose children fell under this broad umbrella of pervasive disability disorders.

whew! having said all this, let's give those numbers within the study time to grow and hope that the findings shed light on the many questions that surround these wonderful, extremely complicated children. the numbers tested/examined within these studies are as important as the results reported.

4:26PM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Thank you.

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